How To Market Right And Pivot Off What’s Wrong - Long Term Lessons

market right pivot from wrong best practices business long-term lessons

One of the most important things we can do for long-term marketing strategy and business success longevity is to look at macro-level data that impacts our marketing. For example, if you’re in a deep recession, your marketing dollars have to work harder because customers are simply more risk-averse; it will take much more effort to persuade someone to invest when money is tight compared to when their wallets are flush. Knowing whether you’re in a recession or not would be helpful. The good news is that as marketers, we’ve got more access to more free data than ever before, especially about macro factors. Services like European Union Data Portal or the United States Federal Reserve Bank publish valuable data, paid for by taxpayers, that anyone can use. What would be a real-life example of this kind of information? 

Let’s say you’re a real estate agent. What kind of information would help you understand the housing and property market? Certainly, something like the Multiple Listings System (MLS), a proprietary system that realtors buy access to can give you data about the real estate market itself, but what about the bigger picture? Going to a system like the Federal Reserve Bank’s FRED database, we might want to look at the overall economy. What kind of unemployment rate, for example, is present? Lower unemployment means more people gainfully working. That would be one measure of economic strength. Are businesses hiring? A look at the total number of job postings in the area per day from a service like would be a way to measure whether companies are hiring and growing or not. 

What kinds of economic pressures are there on consumers? The price of a gallon of gasoline would give us a sense of how much consumers have to spend on things like energy. And of course, things like the total number of active for-sale listings, and the median listing price would give us a sense of the real estate market itself. In this case, the Federal Reserve Bank provides all that data to us, via either downloading it from their site manually, or through an API (application programming interface, a way for software to connect automatically to data). 

I built some middleware to the Federal Reserve database and imported it into Google’s BigQuery database, then made it available to Google Data Studio as an example for this newsletter. Let’s see what the dashboard would look like: Google Data Studio Now instead of having to fish for all that data every month, you’d have a single page, a single place to go to look at the macro data that would be affecting your real estate sales: You’d see that unemployment is on the decline (green line) and companies are hiring (sky blue line). You’d also see that gas prices are going up substantially, pinching consumers’ wallets - that in turn might inform some of your sales messaging, reminding people to live closer to their jobs and save money on fuel. And you’d see that the number of active listings is starting to rise as prices are coming down, which means that demand may be softening a little - so you know to get more aggressive with pricing and incentives to convince buyers to buy and sellers to be more flexible with sale prices. 

From this data, you make decisions about how to run your business with best practices. That’s the power of using third party data to inform your marketing and sales - knowing this helps you stay in front of the trends affecting your customers, and helps your marketing be smarter and faster. What’s the next step? Go to one of the many free data sources available and start hunting for data about your industry, your sector, and the geography where you live. Look for data you know you can use to make informed decisions and beat competitors by staying ahead of major trends. That’s the first, best place to start as you build economic indicators for your business.

Let's also mention unique selling propositions in business marketing. What really sets apart a company, and its products and services? What makes a company pass the white label test, where you take two products and remove all branding, then see if you can tell which company’s product is which. Scrape the brands off an iPhone and a Google Pixel and you’ll have clearly differentiated experiences. Scrape the logos off a Tesla and a Prius and you’ll have clearly differentiated experiences. But what do you do when you work in a commodity market? How do you differentiate in a meaningful way? 

Fellow data scientist Eduardo Ariño de la Rubia had a fascinating way to distill out competitive advantage: “Any sufficiently advanced trolling is indistinguishable from thought leadership.” Think about that for a second. Take a product or service that you don’t like. Imagine you were a competitor of that product or service. List out all the things you hate about it, all the things that are wrong, and then list out what a working, useful, enjoyable product would be. What attributes could your company’s product or service embody that the competitor didn’t? 

Former CEO John Legere built T-Mobile US into a mobile carrier powerhouse with this technique. Each quarter, he and his team would listen to customer complaints, both about T-Mobile and its competitors, and then reveal a series of initiatives to actually not do those things. Eliminate dozens of meaningless, often bogus fees. Eliminate confusing pricing and offer simplified plans. Stop overcharging for bandwidth overages within reason. During his 8-year tenure, T-Mobile exploded in growth, eventually acquiring competitor Sprint to make it the third largest mobile carrier in the US after telecom behemoths Verizon and AT&T.

When we started Lean Startup Life, one of the things we did was define our company values, but instead of starting with generic platitudes, we made a long list of pretty much everyone who had pissed us off at the last few companies we’d worked at. We listed out all the things we swore we’d never do to ourselves and anyone who worked with us, and the corrected version of that list forms our company values today. 

Because it’s so concrete - I could even name the individuals behind each of these company values as an example of what not to do - it makes them specific and memorable. Use this technique of essentially trolling - identifying things to start fights about - as a way to truly build out your unique selling proposition, your competitive differentiators. What do your competitors do that you hate, that piss off their customers? How does your product or service not do those things, and not do them in such a way that you can make a bold, truthful statement about it? If your product does nothing different than a competitor’s, then use this technique to start creating those differentiators. 

Once you’ve done it, not only will you have identified your unique selling proposition, you’ll be able to defend it with vigor. When someone confronts you and asks, “Well, what really makes you so different from Competitors XYZ?”, you’ll laugh heartily and say, “Let me tell you all the things that they do wrong, and how we don’t do that to you.” In doing so, you’ll create a competitive differentiation so clear and specific that even if someone removed all your branding, it would be bountifully clear whose products were whose. 

Keep these tips in mind to market right and pivot from what's wrong for long term business success!

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